DRC rebels claim recapturing of two towns

Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels said Sunday they had retaken two towns in the east of the country two days after they were seized by the army in a to-and-fro battle for territory.

The military had taken the two towns in the North Kivu province on Friday, taking advantage of a rift within the rebel group that had led to deadly clashes between factions.

"The M23 have recaptured Kiwandja and Rutshuru. We recaptured them without any fighting," M23 military spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama said.

The North and South Kivu provinces are home to many rebel and militia groups seeking a part in the control of the region's considerable mineral wealth.

The United Nations accuses Rwanda and Uganda of backing M23, an allegation the two neighbouring countries deny.

The M23 rebels, army mutineers largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, staged a lightning advance in November through the DR Congo's mineral-rich and chronically unstable east, raising fears of a widespread conflict.

Although they were persuaded to withdraw from the key eastern city of Goma after a 12-day occupation, they still control large stretches of territory.

Clashes between two rival factions of M23 broke out in the Rutshuru region, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Goma, last week after its military command dismissed the group's political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga.

The group was divided between supporters of Runiga and M23 military leader, Sultani Makenga.

Old rivalries between Makenga and Runiga have deepened since 11 countries on February 24 signed a UN-brokered framework accord for peace in the strife-torn east of DR Congo, after talks in Addis Ababa.

Several military sources have said that Runiga wanted to resume an armed offensive against Congolese troops, while Makenga was in favour of stabilising the region and peace.

Kazarama said on Sunday that M23 regained control of the two towns after an intervention by the body that controls the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda, known as the joint verification mechanism (JVM) -- which met Makenga on Saturday.

The Addis Ababa accord is aimed at encouraging reform of weak institutions in the vast DR Congo and calls for countries in the region to stop interfering in each other's affairs.